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1987: Negotiator turned hostage

When Terry Waite went to Beirut in January 1987, he was placing himself in immense danger.

The American arms for hostages scandal - the Iran-Contra affair - led to accusations the peace envoy was more CIA stooge than humanitarian negotiator.

To confound his critics - and believing himself safe as a representative of the church - Mr Waite left once more for the world's most dangerous city.

I know myself well enough to realise I don't have purely altruistic motives.

I definitely felt desperately concerned about the hostages and their plight.

But also I was devastated by the political action that had been taken, which was duplicitous in my opinion. I felt my pride had been wounded and I wasn't just going to sit down and take that.

The story begins the day before I was kidnapped. There was an intermediary in Beirut who was a medical practitioner and I used to meet my contacts in his consulting room.

"I went without guards, arms or a locater device"

I went back to Beirut and for the first few days spent time visiting various people in the town, trying to pick up leads and I didn't get very far.

Then the telephone rang and I recognised the voice of my contact and he asked me if I would meet him.

I said I would - that's why I was there, I wanted to try and see if we could pick up the negotiation again.

I arranged to meet him at the doctor's consulting room and on the evening in question I went there without guards, arms or a locater device.

He said, "On previous occasions you've asked to see the hostages."

I said, "Yes, I have."

He said, "We haven't allowed it, but this time we're going to let you see them, because they're sick and they're very depressed as a result of all these happenings [the US arms for hostages scandal] in recent weeks."

'We will not keep you'

I said to him what any sensible person would have said:

"If I come with you, you'll keep me."

But he denied this.

I asked him to give me his hand and assurance that he wouldn't.

He stretched out his hand and said, "We will not keep you".

I told him he was asking a great deal and requested 24 hours to think about it. He agreed and said if I wanted to see the hostages I should come back to this place tomorrow night.


I consulted with various people - the advice differed and really the decision was mine.

I felt that if I'd been given safe conduct, if the man was telling me the truth and if I didn't go and one of the hostages died, then I'd have to live with my conscience for the rest of my life.

And I didn't want to live with a bad conscience.

So the next night I went back to the doctor's consulting room and immediately I had the feeling that something was wrong, because as soon as I got there the telephone rang.

The doctor answered it and he said, "I'm sorry I've got to leave you, there's an emergency at the hospital."

I asked him to wait for a moment until the man came, but he said he had to go now - and he left.

And I remember pacing up and down in his consulting room thinking what I should do at this point. But I thought as I had come so far I should go through with it.

Underground garage

Then I heard the elevator come up and my contact stepped into the room. I was given a quick body search.

I was taken in a car, then we changed cars, then I was blindfolded, then we went to a safe house and I was given a change of clothing.

We were moved from house to house in order to shake off a tail. Then after three or four days he said, "Right we're going to see the hostages."

I was taken down in the night, put into a van and driven across town. We came to what I believed was an underground garage beneath a block of flats.

"That was it - I was a hostage, no longer a negotiator"

I was told to get out of the van and there in the floor there was a trapdoor.

He said, "Jump down."

I jumped down, was pushed across the room and the door closed behind me and when I took my blindfold off I was in a tiled cell.

Then I realised that was it: I was a hostage, no longer a negotiator.

You can read Terry Waite's account of his release by clicking on the link in the right hand column.

In Context
Terry Waite was freed in November 1991 after almost five years in captivity - most of them in solitary confinement.

After his release he wrote a bestselling account of his imprisonment, Taken on Trust, and is now a full time author and lecturer.

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